Lifestyle

How to have a happy and healthy Christmas

Just the thought of that glistening turkey, super-sweet mince pies – not to mention chocolate boxes galore – is enough the get everyone’s taste buds going. Of course, we all deserve some treats at Christmas, but with a little careful planning it doesn’t have to mean bingeing on rubbish. Check out our festive food tips.

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1. Use healthier recipes for sweet treats

Make Christmas treats smaller in size, higher in fibre and lower in sugar, adding healthy extras such as cranberries, raisins or nuts. For mince pies, use a shortcrust pastry which is lower in calories than puff (check the label), and half-fat pastry if you can.

2. Get the kids to help choose and prepare the Christmas Day veg

Studies show that when children are involved in the choosing and preparing of food, they get a sense of ownership that makes them much more likely to enjoy the results.

3. Invest in a vegetable spiraliser

A spiraliser can transform five-a-day into spaghetti-style spirals that make even the most boring vegetables look exciting. Sweet potato curls are particularly popular. Simply peel your potato, put it in the machine, add salt and pepper and olive oil and cook.

4. Turn whole meals into Christmas characters

Turn a bowl of granola into Rudolph by using pretzels for the ears, raisins for the eyes and a red smartie for the nose. Transform sandwiches into a snowman by cutting them into three circles and attaching them to a kebab stick, then decorating them with things like cut-up paper, raisins and carrot shavings.

5. Make fruit festive

Make red and white striped candy canes using cut up strawberries and bananas. You could also create a fruit centrepiece for the table.

6. Create Christmas themed drinks

Why should kids stick to water and milk when adults are enjoying much more exciting drinks? Get creative, with ideas such as peppermint hot chocolate, milkshakes and Christmas smoothies. Freeze grapes or mandarin orange segments and use them as ice cubes for water, and invest in fun straws and festive cups.

7. Cut down on Christmas lunch fat

Before you cook your turkey, prick the skin to allow the fat to drain out. Cook it on a trivet or upturned ovenproof plate so it’s not sitting in the fat, and then remove the skin when you serve it. To make low-fat gravy, pour the turkey juices into a jug and wait for the fat to rise to the surface, then carefully pour or spoon off the fat. But do remember that young children, especially under twos, need fat and calories for growth.

8. Be a role model

You can’t expect your children not to pester you for sugar and fat-laden food if they see you grabbing handfuls of Christmas cookies and sugary drinks and loading your plate up with huge puddings. So try to set up a good example and cut down on the sweet and fatty stuff!

9. Make a big Christmas breakfast

Make sure you all have a decent breakfast as it can deter children from asking for fatty and sugary foods throughout the morning. Make breakfast a treat by serving some favourite savouries and bring out a colourful fruit platter.

10. Make mini portions

Choosing bite-sized mince pies or smaller biscuits means fewer calories, provided kids don’t eat twice as much! Even for healthier foods, like turkey pie, you’re better off serving on small plates – it’s much more appealing to a child than a dollop of food.

11. Make a meal of fruit

Don’t let your child’s fruit intake over Christmas consist solely of a Clementine languishing at the bottom of the stocking. Make the most of seasonal fruits which help towards their five-a-day. Peel them and put them on a plate if your children find them more appetising that way and point out how much you love them when you are snacking on them yourself.

12. Serve the veggies first at Christmas lunch

Most families serve the turkey first, then the vegetables. But if you start with veg, children get into the habit of knowing it’s an integral part of the meal. Remind children that they helped choose and prepare them, if they did.

13. Use turkey leftovers wisely

A leftover turkey curry can come laden with cream and salt – why not use lots of lentils and vegetables and make a tomato-based sauce instead? Or make a buffet of cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn and other veg alongside chopped-up turkey.

14. Avoid adding salt

There’s generally no need to add salt to Christmas meals, which often already contain lots of salt in chipolatas, bacon, gravy and stuffing. And avoid leaving the salt cellar on the table. You want your children to taste the flavour of the real food, not food masked with salt.

15. Don’t let kids get too hungry before a Christmas party

If your kids arrive hungry, the buffet will become a disaster zone, where they quickly help themselves to all the high-sugar, high-fat and high-salt snacks. Make sure they have a small pre-party snack, perhaps a small pot of plain yoghurt with slices of banana or a clementine.

16. Lend a hand with the buffet selection

Most children love nothing more than to fill up their plate with sausage rolls and crisps when selecting from the buffet. So hang around the table with them, filling their plates with vegetables and protein-based items like chicken or salmon, before adding a few crisps. Put the healthier foods nearer the front of the table and the unhealthier stuff further away.

17. Choose sensible dips

Don’t offer dips made of cream or cream cheese alone. Choose tomato-based dips, such as salsa, or mix some chopped herbs into low-fat yoghurt. Hummus is a favourite.

18. Beware of crisps

It’s all too easy to leave endless bowls of crisps and salted nuts hanging around. Keep any such bowls out of reach of small children and serve veggie sticks or cut-up cucumber, carrots and peppers with a healthy dip.

19. Online inspiration

Along with www.rightstartonline.co.uk, the wider internet provides a wealth of healthy Christmas food ideas for kids. Sharing your own ideas and creations can be fun too.

20. Don’t be too strict

If you start banning foods that your kids know to be delicious, they’ll want them even more. There is a place for the less healthy foods at Christmas too. Try to maintain a balance – remember, everything in moderation.

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